Metro Jakarta: West Java

The biggest irony about Jakarta is that people see it as a city of a thousand chances, yet chances are actually confined, especially in relation to space. It seems that the rich get richer and the poor end up sleeping in cardboard boxes.

As the population grows every year, it is hard to make room for every newcomer that arrives on the capital’s doorstep.

City development, for a long time, has been a cash cow for moneymakers.

Highways and business districts are the number one priority.
Native Jakartans have made themselves billionaires by selling their land to newcomers with large sums of money.

The rich can afford cozy lifestyles in big homes while the poor have to struggle to secure a small place of their own.

The homeless, at the lower echelons of society, are the easiest prey who suffer the most from the early stages of development.
Whenever the poor try to build shelters for themselves — usually under flyover bridges or on river banks — they come face-to-face with the city administration, which claims that it wants to make the capital comfortable and tidy.

Eviction is an old urban song that continues to be sung throughout the city; so frequent that people have become numb to the sound of it.

The media often exposes incidents that involve the poor and the city officials who tear down their houses — yet nothing is ever really done to change the underlaying circumstances.

Even experts and activists have become weary with the situation and the administration seems to make no attempt to be more poor-people-oriented.

However, as the city continues to be overdeveloped and overpopulated, it is running out of space to cater for its citizens.

The administration halted construction of grounded highways five years ago and instead built more elevated roads and underpasses, due to land availability issues.

This time around, however, the issues seem to have affected a larger group of people, even those at the top. Floods, which commonly occur in the city, have become worse each year as water can hardly seem to make its way out of the city’s concrete heart.

The administration, which has never bothered to renew the city’s Dutch-inherited water system, needs to ready food, temporary shelters, medicine in preparation for flood victims whenever the wet season arrives.

In the wet season it seems that money can’t always keep you dry; upper-class housing areas like Kemang in South Jakarta or middle-upper-class favorites like Kelapa Gading in North Jakarta or Bintaro in South Jakarta also experience the annual flooding.

The city has entered a new era when it is not only the poor who are suffering for the greater good. And the administration seems to have no other choice than to tend to public interest more than ever before.

The recent plan to establish a busway lane through Jakarta’s own “Beverly Hills”, Pondok Indah, speaks volumes of this phenomenon. The area’s main street, Jl. Metro Pondok Indah, is considered strategic in connecting the city center to southern areas like Depok and Bogor.

The administration hopes the busway will help reduce the number of cars on city roads and provide a mode of public transportation into the city center for those citizens living on the outskirts of the city.

However, residents have argued the busway lane at Pondok Indah would only worsen traffic congestions and increase pollution in the area. With assistance from the Indonesian Environmental Forum (Walhi), Pondok Indah residents recently staged a protest opposing the plan.

It is still debatable whether the number of people who will use the busway will exceed the number of motorists who have to endure pain-staking traffic jams in the area to get to their destinations.
But at least the administration has tried to provide a more comfortable mode of public transportation that commuters have been waiting for.

Unless another highly-invested subway project or joint commitment with the central government to develop the Greater Jakarta railway system arrives, the busway is still a better option to help solve the city’s traffic problems.

The car-free day last Saturday in the city also offered a challenge to private car owners who dominate the city and represent the middle-upper income earners.

On that day, the fast lanes of Jl. Sudirman and Jl Thamrin in South and Central Jakarta were car-free from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., allowing only the busway to operate along the two arteries.

People walked on the streets with their families and little boys could not miss the opportunity to play soccer on the empty streets.

The common people, as the larger part of the community, felt the car-free day was an indicator their rights had been advocated by the administration.

Surely nature has its own mechanism to reach equilibrium. Even if men refuse to share with others, nature will eventually persuade them to do so.

However, everything is still half-way and no equilibrium has been reached yet. The administration has to do much more to prove that they have a strong commitment to improving the quality of life in the capital.

Adisti Sukma Sawitri